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Starting a Fire for Low and Slow - Definitive


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I have never been able to control the temp well at all in my Akorn with the top vent fully open. I can get away with that on my kettle, drum, and wsm though...

Are you adjusting the amount of wood you use on the CGK to avoid over-smoking?

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I have never been able to control the temp well at all in my Akorn with the top vent fully open. I can get away with that on my kettle, drum, and wsm though...

Same here, other type smokers, yeah, not this CGK tho.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ok, Just my opinion but here it goes...

I have also heard about (and practiced) the top vent being open. The reason you do that is because you want clean slightly blue smoke running through your cooker. You need a place for it to exit and AIR FLOW is what keeps it burning well - a good hot burning fire produces very little smoke.

The kamado - being very easy to heat and keep hot requires a small fire. A small fire means small air flow. The smaller air flow means you need less of an exhaust in order to keep it running well.

Also, if you keep the top open 100% you are letting all of the heat out and that defeats the whole idea. When I am cooking (and I assume when others are cooking) on a kamado I don't have white smoke puffing out from the top, I have clean clear exhaust. The idea of leaving the vent on traditional cookers open is to support the clean clear exhaust. The desire is to have the clean clear exhaust. The motion or action of keeping the top vent open 100% for the sake of saying, "I keep my vent open 100%" means nothing. You just want a clean clear exhaust and things will be great. A small fire doesn't need a huge exhaust to burn clean. I know I am repeating myself over and over - sorry - clean clear exhaust!

:D

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Ok, Just my opinion but here it goes...

I have also heard about (and practiced) the top vent being open. The reason you do that is because you want clean slightly blue smoke running through your cooker. You need a place for it to exit and AIR FLOW is what keeps it burning well - a good hot burning fire produces very little smoke.

The kamado - being very easy to heat and keep hot requires a small fire. A small fire means small air flow. The smaller air flow means you need less of an exhaust in order to keep it running well.

Also, if you keep the top open 100% you are letting all of the heat out and that defeats the whole idea. When I am cooking (and I assume when others are cooking) on a kamado I don't have white smoke puffing out from the top, I have clean clear exhaust. The idea of leaving the vent on traditional cookers open is to support the clean clear exhaust. The desire is to have the clean clear exhaust. The motion or action of keeping the top vent open 100% for the sake of saying, "I keep my vent open 100%" means nothing. You just want a clean clear exhaust and things will be great. A small fire doesn't need a huge exhaust to burn clean. I know I am repeating myself over and over - sorry - clean clear exhaust!

:D

But how do you achieve high temp if you don't have the top vent almost all the way open?

I do like to see clean air coming out from the top vent before I put any food on my grill, I personally not too crazy of smoke things, but that's because I grew up not having things cooked that way.

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To the guys having problems you could try the method i use. I put the few lit cooks on one far side and trail it to the other. I've always done it this way and that's why i wasn't sure what this volcano thing was. might be worth a shot. Maybe i can post a pic tomorrow. if anyone else does it this way they can chime in.

I truly believe that after a few times it'll be dead easy to get it going.

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Ok, Just my opinion but here it goes...

I have also heard about (and practiced) the top vent being open. The reason you do that is because you want clean slightly blue smoke running through your cooker. You need a place for it to exit and AIR FLOW is what keeps it burning well - a good hot burning fire produces very little smoke.

The kamado - being very easy to heat and keep hot requires a small fire. A small fire means small air flow. The smaller air flow means you need less of an exhaust in order to keep it running well.

Also, if you keep the top open 100% you are letting all of the heat out and that defeats the whole idea. When I am cooking (and I assume when others are cooking) on a kamado I don't have white smoke puffing out from the top, I have clean clear exhaust. The idea of leaving the vent on traditional cookers open is to support the clean clear exhaust. The desire is to have the clean clear exhaust. The motion or action of keeping the top vent open 100% for the sake of saying, "I keep my vent open 100%" means nothing. You just want a clean clear exhaust and things will be great. A small fire doesn't need a huge exhaust to burn clean. I know I am repeating myself over and over - sorry - clean clear exhaust!

:D

But how do you achieve high temp if you don't have the top vent almost all the way open?

I do like to see clean air coming out from the top vent before I put any food on my grill, I personally not too crazy of smoke things, but that's because I grew up not having things cooked that way.

You just open it more for a hotter fire. The question was low fire with open top vent. How far you open it is relative to how hot you want your fire. Open them both all the way and you'll have a rocket engine. I had a ceramic kamado before that I used for streaks. I would open both top and bottom vents all the way before throwing on the meat. You could literally hear it howling and at night you could see a column of fire a foot tall shooting out of the top.

Nobody said you can't open it up, I use them in combination with one another to achieve my desired cook temp.

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Phipom, great write-up - one question about your method. Several here have suggested that the dome themometer is inaccurate up to 50 degrees either way. When you say you can hold low 200s for several hours are you relying on the build-in thermometer or something more reliable? Also, have you done any of the "air leak-proofing" many others here have advocated?

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Phipom, great write-up - one question about your method. Several here have suggested that the dome themometer is inaccurate up to 50 degrees either way. When you say you can hold low 200s for several hours are you relying on the build-in thermometer or something more reliable? Also, have you done any of the "air leak-proofing" many others here have advocated?

When I first brought the CGK home I tested the thermometer using the boiling water technique. It was within 5 degrees. I do not use any other thermometer. I agree that the stock guage is probably more and more incorrect the hotter you go but I have reasonable faith around 200.

I have sealed the lower vent using BGE felt and I keep the top latched while cooking. Some have mentioned that the weight of the lid 'should' be enough to seal it however the folks that don't use the latch seem to have a higher rate of failure keeping temps low and/or complain of massive leaks around the lid. The latch will pull it tight.

In short, I doubt it was reading 50 degrees high (keeping it at around 150 would be a challenge) and even if it was reading 50 degrees low keeping the fire at ~250 for 20 hours straight is still a feat. At 100 degrees low on the guage I think I would have burned much more fuel than I did for a 20 hour cook at 300 degrees.

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Thought I would post a few pictures of the "volcano" so folks could have a visual. The other picture shows the small flame from a cotton ball with a little oil drizzled on it as a starter.

IMG_20120506_163013.jpg

You can see the mix of sizes used and the hole in the middle. The bottom of the hole doesn't need to be cleard down to the grate but it should have a clear air path to the grate.

IMG_20120506_163639.jpg

Here you see the small flame fromt he cotton ball. Once it is lit I just set a few pieces over the hole but I don't fill it. Filling the hole would only smother the starter. You also see the randomly placed smoke wood.

When trying this remember that you are preparing for a slow and low cook and that it will take some time to get to temp. Maybe 30 min but if you try to rush it you will end up overshooting your target and lighting too much lump at once. This will make it hard to keep the temp down.

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Nice pics and directions philpom, that looks very close to what I did for my chicken cook on Monday except I used newspaper. It IS easy to get impatient for the temp to move, especially from about 100° to 200°, which feels like forever.

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Thanks for the pics: that definitely helps out.

I tried this method last weekend and I couldn't get it higher than 120. After 30 minutes, I just put a couple of chimney-lit lumps into the charcoal bed. I found it pretty easy to control the temps: it was around 250 after 10-15 minutes using this method.

I'm going to give the cotton ball method another try this weekend

UPDATE: I tried it again with the pics and it works like a charm. Thanks!

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I used this to cook two boston butts last night and it worked great. However, I didn't make a volcano I just filled the charcoal box up to about 2 inches below the weber grate while maintaining a hole in the center. I lit it with half a weber cube.

I put it on at 11:20 with the top at ~.75 and bottom at 1.25, stayed stable until 12:30 when I went to bed, I checked it at 3:20 and the temp was ~210 so I adjusted to 1 and 1.5 and went back to bed, around 6 the wife was up with the kids so I had her check the temp and it was ~250 so I let it be, and I got outta bed at 8 and the temp was ~250 and the probes read 201 in the biggest one and 206 in the smaller one. That is about as simple as it gets cooking bbq during the night without a controller.

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